The Drop with Olivia Evans – the best barbecue wines for sizzling season
For each sunny afternoon that rolls around, as does the temptation to get a few pals together and fire up the barbie. It’s a tradition that rarely gets old – sizzling food and an esky full of juicy vino. All good charred foods, potato salads or a sausos in bread deserve a wine that is equally as fitting as it is glug-able, and these are the reasons why …
Food and wine matching can be extremely thought provoking or pretty laid back. With an occasion like a backyard barbecue, it’s good to keep things fairly simple, but always with a few rules to keep in mind.
When food is fresh, it’s works to keep the wine fresh also. If this is a barbecue with lots of greens, salads and fresh lemon juice dressed over everything, I start to gravitate towards lean and savoury white wines with lots of great acidity. Varieties such as chardonnay from Chablis, sauvignon blanc from Sancerre, vermentino or fiano work well because they have a similar light weight and freshness. If you have an undeniable thirst for red, pinot noir, pinot meunier or a light and crunchy rosé will absolutely do the trick instead. If all else fails, cool-climate regions provide the freshest expressions of wine.
There comes that time in the afternoon when you can smell the hot plate on the barbecue as it heats up. Fatty meats hit the grill, sending a light smoke into the air as onions cook alongside them. If it’s a simple feast of sausages or burgers, I like to keep the wine juicy, chilled and rouge. Red wines that are ideal for chilling are made from medium and light varieties that spend less time with their skins during fermentation, to prevent the wines being overly tannic. Varieties such as gamay are ideal as they undergo a type of fermentation called carbonic maceration, allowing the grapes to ferment as whole berries, giving the wine an intense juicy character. Other drops like cabernet franc and nero d’avola are often made into these fleshy styles that help wash down the afternoon.
For those that take the barbecue to the next level with woodfired, coal-cooked food – you are the kind of people who like big flavour. Anything that is larger than life works in this situation – the oak characters of a bold chardonnay tie in beautifully with charred flavours as does a nod to Argentinian barbecue with a glass of inky malbec. When cooking meat over fire, the flavours are relatively simple yet concentrated and rich. Tannin in wine helps to dissolve the protein and also stands up to the crispy, singed flavours. Wines such as tempranillo, grenache from the Côtes du Rhône or Australian expressions of nebbiolo all have great tannic structure whilst still having a simplicity to their fruit-forward character. A bit of fire-cooked lamb with a glass of syrah from the Yarra Valley sounds like one of the simplest most delicious combinations that I could crave.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that a barbecue is a time to share and enjoy the great outdoors. We tend to focus on big red wines when we think of consuming meat at a barbecue, but in most cases, a juicier, lighter drop will satisfy your pallet in a different way. My best advice is to drink adventurously and bring something you want to explore amongst the tastebuds of your friends. Barbecue season has only just begun, excitingly so, and there are simply too many good wines to try. Drink fruitfully!
My favourite barbecue vino:
2018 Moreau-Naudet Petit Chablis – Burgundy, France
2020 Ricca Terra ‘Daisy Chain’ Sauvignon Blanc, White Frontignac and Fiano – Riverland, South Australia
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